January Political Intelligence
Fashion in Parliament – Latest News
Low-Level Letter Boxes – It is indicative of our peculiar Westminster system, that in a period dominated by uncertainty around Brexit and when Parliamentary time is so precious, that debating time was allocated to a discussion about changing the height of letter boxes. Fashion Roundtable has always tried to argue that Parliament will listen to fashion, as long as they shout loudly enough, and in the right direction. So if you’re reading this and you are frustrated, write to your MP with our help, and your message will be delivered (albeit it in a higher than usual letter box).
£65 No More – In the chamber, as a show of goodwill, the Prime Minister agreed to scrap the originally proposed £65 fee that EU citizens living in the UK would have been required to pay in order to remain in the UK. This is welcome news, as it was not a charge we endorsed, acknowledging that there are many European citizens in the UK’s fashion family that we would not expect to pay for their right to contribute to our culture and economy.
Brexit - Certainty in Uncertainty
Over the past two years, we have come to expect one thing from the Brexit process, and that is that it will be fundamentally uncertain.
A principle challenge that the now ostracised academic community have faced, largely falling on the Remain side, is that it is much easier to paint an abstractly successful future than it is to heed warnings of economic uncertainty and political instability. It was a quite foolish position for the Remain campaign to argue simply voting to leave would deliver a recession, as it has armed sceptics with 2 years of (yes – measly) growth. Remain has also carried the burden of a Government utilising every economic and political lever possible to avoid economic Armageddon, including, making promises to firms like Nissan that any lost costs from Brexit would be carried by the tax-payer. This month, Nissan laughed in the face of such an offer and decided to move production of a new car line out of Sunderland – something many Sunderland Leave voters bet their vote on not happening.
Despite this, popular opinion now appears to be leaning on a no deal option. Again, Remain has lost most of its prophetic legitimacy, and so its cries of recession are falling on deaf ears. Motivated by the nearness of the finishing line, the ironically named ‘European Research Group’ (an indulgent Rees-Mogg grouping of MPs) have all come out in support of no deal. They argue this approach will force the Europeans to the negotiating table, they also argue it is the only way to guarantee the Brexit the public voted for.
January offered the public a fascinating insight into what happens when Parliament can’t agree on something. It is a phenomenon that happens rarely in our Westminster political system, which before 2010 seldom offered anything but complete Executive control for the Prime Minister. However, from her bench facing a raucously divided opposition, the Prime Minister watched on as both her party and Parliament almost unanimously voted against the proposal she and her Government had been negotiating for almost two years. Historically, such a defeat would deliver an almost immediate election, but the Prime Minister has more sticking power than that. Seeing off a subsequent vote of no confidence, ironically now supported by those who but a matter of weeks earlier had voted against her in a Conservative Party vote of no confidence, the PM offered to reach out across party lines, to find a passable solution.
Time passed and the ‘reaching out’ process ended, summarised perfectly by several photos of dissatisfied MPs walking out of the gates of Downing Street. The deal came back to Parliament, this time laboured with amendments from both sides. Labour’s Yvette Cooper offered the most substantial opposition bill, which if passed, would have extended the amount of time available before the UK leaves the EU. Throughout this process, she has been seen as a beacon of authority in a divided and uncertain opposition. Perhaps many Labour Remain voters will come to regret supporting Corbyn over Cooper in 2015. Thanks to several of Cooper’s Labour colleagues voting with the Government, the amendment was defeated.
The only other substantial amendment became known as the ‘Malthouse Compromise’. It was negotiated by Kit Malthouse, a Tory housing minister, and in essence, demands an alternative to the ‘Backstop’ tool embedded within the withdrawal agreement. Despite the ‘Backstop’ being a fundamental requirement for the European Union and Ireland, Parliament made clear it could not support it and voted in favour of the ‘Malthouse Compromise’. As this article’s title suggests, we should have anticipated that uncertainty would prevail, and it was certainly unimaginable 3 weeks ago that the Government would support an amendment that essentially renders their own Brexit deal redundant.
The Prime Minister, emboldened by this Parliamentary majority, has returned to Brussels to renegotiate the ‘Backstop’ (again). It is unclear what will happen next. Of course. However, the unavoidable reality is that the UK will leave the European Union at the end of March, unless there is a substantial course change. Labour does not appear prepared to galvanise such a change and no other Parliamentary entity has the power – unless the Monarch decides to unilaterally employ her powers as Head of State and cancel the entire thing. I would usually suggest this was both unlikely and preposterous, but these are uncertain times.